We hear from many customers who describe their horse as an escape artist. You likely have one of these horses on your farm or have owned one at one time. You know the type of horse that must have multiple latches on his stall door if it’s a Dutch-style stall door. As a child, I once owned a big goofy Quarter Horse, Sox, who had a reputation for being an escape artist. When we got him, his previous owner warned us about his antics and told the story of how he once let himself out and then released all the other horses at 4-H horse camp. He led them on a wild and fun romp across beautiful hunt club grounds and a golf course! We took extra precautions to keep him contained. I believe that many of our escape artists can be contained if we install proper fencing. Electric fences are not necessarily the best choice for horse fencing, but they are very popular with horse owners because of costs, convenience, DIY installation and low maintenance. However, electric fencing is also one of the more common fence types that is installed incorrectly. If you choose electric fencing for your horse fences or already have it, this article provides tips for installing your electric fence to make it more reliable, and that will make it harder for your escape artist to get past it.
The industry standard minimum required heights for horse fencing is 4 ft high for pastures and 6 ft for paddocks. This is not the place to cut corners!
Number of Rails
You need at least 3 rails or strands of electric fencing to keep horses in, and possibly more depending on the size of your horses and type of fence. We personally love our Electric Tape Horse Fencing, in 1.5” white rails. We have three strands of this fencing around all our pastures. The white makes it highly visible to horses, and it looks like white board fencing from afar. Unlike board fencing though, they won’t chew the electric tape and it requires much less maintenance.
If your pastures need to contain a mini or small pony with electric fence, you generally need 4 rails because you need to put the lowest rail lower than average for horse fencing. You’ll still need it to go all the way up to the 4-ft minimum height to keep in other horses. Thus, the need for 4 rails for minis/ponies in a mixed herd of full-size horses. Again, don’t skimp on the number of rails or you will regret it for years to come.
Be sure to use proper insulators to attach your fencing to the posts. Insulator styles vary depending on the type of fence (wire vs. tape) and post material (metal vs. wood). If attaching to wood posts, use screws, not nails (which will pull out under the tension of the fence). Most wood fence posts are treated with preservatives that will corrode metal – spending a little more now for stainless steel screws will save you a ton of time later when you need to replace a broken insulator.
Fence Energizer (or Charger)
Buy a good one! Be sure that it is installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you doubt your ability to install it properly, pay an electrician to do it for you. Follow the energizer instructions on grounding and lightning protection.
Visibility of the electric fencing is one of the most important keys to keeping your horse contained, thus my personal preference for the 1.5”+ white electric tape rails. If you use something smaller such as braided or single electric strands, I highly recommend adding markers along each section to make them more visible to horses. They are usually called “Fence Flags” and they are bright yellow or white plastic tags made to attach to electric fence. “Electric Fence Warning” signs are also recommended to provide a warning for people.
Testing your electric fence with an electric fence voltmeter is necessary to be sure that the fence is in good working order. Where rubber boots or rubber-soled shoes and rubber gloves when testing your electric fence. You should always test the fence when you initially install it. After that, you should test the fence on a regular schedule. Follow the fence tester manufacturer’s instructions to test your fence, being sure to test all rails in a section. I generally check between every other fence post.
If your fence doesn’t have enough voltage and fails the test, it is time to troubleshoot. Check for plants growing up or into the fencing that could be touching the fence, look for any objects touching the fencing such as hoses and ropes, check for broken insulators, any fencing that is sagging or touching the ground and finally check for incorrect or incomplete wire connections.
Introducing Horses to the Fencing
Many horse owners skip the very important step of introducing your horses to the electric fence. I take this step with every new pasture, every new horse, when new fencing is installed, or when my horse moves to a new facility. Once they understand electric fencing will hurt, they will want to avoid it. With the electric fence energizer turned off, walk the horse around the entire perimeter of the fence, showing him the fence between every other post. Then with the electric turned back on, turn the horse loose in the pasture/paddock and allow the horse to investigate the fence on his or her own with the handlers outside of the fence. This should be done one horse at a time. If the horse doesn’t understand electric fencing, they may accidentally touch it (once!) during this training process. Observe the horse during this training period while they are turned out and investigating the new fence. If they’ve been introduced to electric fencing before, they will show signs of not wanting to walk close enough to it that they could accidentally touch it. Again, visibility will help greatly in this training process.
Maintenance and Use
Mow and trim around all electric fence, posts and gates. No plants, tree branches, grasses, etc. should be touching the electric fence or any of its components.
With the fence turned off, regularly tighten fence strands, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Repair any broken strands as soon as possible.
Avoid placing water troughs/buckets or hay close to the fencing. Also, don’t hang anything on the fence posts such as feed buckets that could contact the fence. You don’t want your horse to associate eating or drinking with a nasty shock.
This tip may seem obvious but always keep the fence energizer turned on. Horses can tell when the electric is off. It costs very little to run and isn’t worth the risk of a horse getting hurt or lost to save a few pennies.
Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any electric fence tips to share!